As we entry tryout season, it’s a good time of year to talk about individual attitude and commitment, and how important they are in the development of a hockey player.
Players who recognize that they alone are responsible for the long-term outcome in their sport will inevitably seek out the opportunities they need to get better. It is important for parents and coaches to help their players understand this concept and what qualities they need to possess to be a “hockey player” versus just playing hockey. There is no particular formula to becoming a “player,” but here are some tips that might help coaches and parents assess and guide their youngsters.
Anywhere, anytime, anybody. These players will play anytime they get a chance. They (or you) will drive several hours just to play. It does not matter with whom or who wins, they just want the puck on their stick. They are usually smiling.
When nobody is looking. These players shoot hundreds of pucks several days a year. They are never satisfied and always want to do better. For the older players, you can find them getting stronger in the school’s weight room. They might be with a couple friends, but as often as not, they are alone.
Play other sports. “Hockey players” love to compete at anything, be it hockey, lacrosse, football or hackysack. They would rather play than watch sports. Parents and coaches should encourage their kids to play other sports to help them become better athletes and learn new skills.
Coachable. Coachable players recognize that every coach has something to offer them. By the time they are seniors, most players have had more than 50 coaches. By keeping an open mind and learning along the way, each team and season builds for the next. Coaches and parents should encourage their players to learn every time they get on the ice or engage in any sport-related opportunity.
Resilience. Disappointment is part of sports and life. Allowing players to experience disappointment and then to bounce back is a valuable lesson. Parents and coaches need to allow players to experience losses without placing blame on the officials or some other factor. For “hockey players,” disappointments strengthen their resolve to do better the next time.
Patience. As each player grows older, they have certain windows of time when they are most receptive to learning and acquiring the various skills they need to play. These windows of time vary a bit for each player, but generally ages 12-15 is when players are most receptive to fundamental skill development.
Motivation. The only motivation that is sustainable is internal. External motivation based on fear or some sort of artificial reward system will fail. About 10 percent of players are motivated to become “players.” The rest merely play hockey. Players who are willing to give up something in order to get something of greater value understand the trade-offs and willingly move ahead with their eye on the future.
Coaches and parents can assess any player based on the qualities above. If several of the points are lacking, the individual may simply be playing hockey and hopefully having fun. For others, these qualities are present and combined with above-average athletic ability, and that individual may have what it takes to get to the next level.
By taking a long-term view of player development and understanding the process that players go through as they move from childhood to adolescence and then into young adults, it is easier to forgive their day-to-day transgressions, mistakes and blunders as they learn to play the great game of hockey.
To win the game is great.
To play the game is greater.
To love the game is greatest of all.
Hal Tearse is Coach In Chief for Minnesota Hockey.